New registrations could ‘taint’ polls, opposition warns

Opposition political parties yesterday warned that holding a new round of Claims and Objections to facilitate registration could taint the upcoming polls, while saying the Guyana Elections Commis-sion (GECOM) appeared ready “to bend to the will” of the government and the ruling party.

The PNCR, AFC and WPA detailed their concerns in a letter sent yesterday to GECOM Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally, ahead of a commission meeting today to address the issue of an exercise to facilitate potential electors now in possession of source documents needed to register.

In light of recent pronouncements on the issue by President Bharrat Jagdeo and the PPP/C, the opposition parties said the commission seemed ready to acquiesce to government and the ruling party, while noting the danger of such a move. The PPP/C, however, said last evening that it would continue to support any initiative that would afford the eligible citizens who now qualify to be registered, while denying that it was seeking to delay the polls.

“The need to re-open another round of the Claims and Objections is pregnant with the possibility of irreparable danger to the integrity of the Final Voters List,” the opposition parties warned in the letter, a copy of which was seen by this newspaper.

The parties noted that they received information from field operatives that suggested that GECOM has commenced preparations in the field for a 13-day Claims and Objections exercise. They also said that GECOM had not advised them of such operations.

However, a GECOM official noted that while the Commission has been reviewing the situation, a decision has not been made. Although GECOM had previously ruled out extending the last Claims and Objections, which ended June 9th, Stabroek News was told that one commissioner requested that the issue be reviewed, based on the argument that some persons previously without access to source documents for registration had since acquired them, and that the process would not jeopardise the date for elections. It was also argued that there was precedent for GECOM to revisit the process, since a similar accommodation was made after lobbying by the main opposition PNCR in 2006.

Stabroek News was also told that GECOM has established that it has the legal and financial wherewithal to launch another Claims and Objections exercise, and at today’s meeting commissioners would review a work plan to accommodate such a process.
Polls are constitutionally due by December 28.

‘Political bias’

The three parties noted that prior to the conclusion of the Claims and Objections period, they had repeatedly apprised GECOM of difficulties encountered by persons attempting to access source documents in a timely manner to enable them to be adequately accommodated for registration by June 9th deadline.

“Our diligent efforts to ensure that not a single qualified and eligible elector is left off the list are well known,” they said, while pointing out that GECOM nevertheless determined that previously established guidelines would prevail and that such persons would have to ensure that they met the requirements for registration.

“The opposition political parties have the legitimate expectation that the preparation of these elections is free of any hint of impropriety and partiality,” they said, while adding that “There is a grave concern that the perception of political bias may taint the entire process….”

At GECOM’s headquarters yesterday, WPA co-leader Dr Rupert Roopnaraine and PNCR General Secretary Oscar Clarke met with officials and formally presented the letter expressing their concerns. Clarke noted that while GECOM has refuted reports that it was making preparations for a Claims and Objections exercise, evidence exists which suggests otherwise.

Roopnaraine said that the opposition parties’ “real fear is that any attempt to tamper with the Claims and Objections period would put us in a situation where the date for elections will be put in jeopardy.”

He emphasised that during meetings with the political parties in the past, GECOM was firm that it did not favour another Claims and Objections exercise, and he noted that “now there seems to be a change in their attitudes.”

Further, Roopnaraine said that the parties were not prepared to accept any set of arrangements that will throw into question the integrity of the final voters list or of GECOM. He observed that based on its action plan, GECOM seems to think “that they will make accommodations and hold the elections by the 14th of November,” but he noted that there was no guarantee  of the procedures  that have to be undertaken and the safeguards that have to be applied in the lead up to the elections.

‘Sad’

Meanwhile, in a statement issued last night, the PPP/C said that the position taken by the three parties was “sad,” in light of the fact that that they all acknowledged that there is a significant number of eligible citizens not on GECOM’s list of electors because of difficulties securing source documents for registration.

“It is sad that… the opposition is not interested in ensuring that all eligible Guyanese both on the coastland and hinterland are allowed to exercise their democratic right,” it said.

The PPP/C noted that it was a known fact that a large number of persons both on the coast and particularly in the hinterland were unable to register due to circumstances beyond their control. “…And any effort by GECOM to provide the opportunity to have these persons registered while not jeopardising the elections can only aid to the process being free and fair and beyond question,” it added.

The statement noted that the PPP/C has stood by the side of the eligible but unregistered citizens and would continue to support any initiative that will seek to afford them the opportunity to be listed based on GECOM’s existing rules and procedures. “The PPP/C wishes to remind these political parties that they had all written to GECOM or sought audience with GECOM imploring that a mechanism be found to have these eligible Guyanese on board. It is evident that GECOM has taken some time to arrive at a mechanism, but the fact remains that these very parties are now opposing what they had requested GECOM to do,” it said.

In response to the allegation that the PPP/C is seeking to delay the elections beyond its constitutional deadline, it said this was “an extremely weak argument,” since a 13-day process would not take GECOM past the constitutional deadline. “The PPP/C is committed and has always been committed to adhere to all constitutional stipulations,” it said.

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